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1 Costs and Benefits Fox Cheng Berman Song Myles

1 Costs and Benefits Fox Cheng Berman Song Myles

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Published by: jasime1919 on Dec 06, 2012
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Costs and Benefits: English for Academic P urposes Instructionin Canadian Universities
  Janna Fox 
Carleton University
 Liying Cheng 
Queen’s University
 Robert Berman
University of Alberta
 Xiaomei Song and Johanne Myles
Queen’s University
With the increase in the number of English second language (L2)international or new immigrant students at universities across English-speakingcountries, research has increasingly begun to focus on these students’ academicacculturation to their new learning environments. Indeed, identifying the factorsmost closely related to academic success and the impact of English for academic purposes (EAP) programs, has significance for the international educationcommunity as a whole, for individual institutions of higher learning and, of course, for the students themselves.In general, the purpose of EAP programs at the university level has been to offer academic and linguistic support to help L2 students who comefrom a variety different backgrounds adjust to the expectations and academicdemands of English-speaking universities. Much of the research in EAP hasattempted to discover the strategies and skills these students need to learn inorder to participate successfully in their academic classes. Studies have been
The authors acknowledge the support via a standard research grant from theSocial Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada.
conducted exploring the academic success of L2 students in association withlanguage proficiency, learning strategies, study strategies, demographics and avariety of personal characteristics. One of the on-going problems in this research,however, has been the definition of what we mean by L2 students -- ESLstudents, non-native English speaking students, new immigrants, refugees,generation 1.5, foreign, or overseas students, as they are referred to in Australiaand Britain. Thus, the term
 L2 student 
can evoke a false image of homogeneitywhen in actual fact these students are more likely to represent a heterogeneouscollection of people from many different countries and cultures – allcharacterized by unique life histories, goals and interests. In fact, individualvariables such as the educational level of a student’s family, familiarity with thehost country before arrival, type and length of courses studied, reasons for studying, and type of financing may be as important as academic background inthese students’ success. In Australia, much of the research related to L2 studentshas focused on what has been generally referred to in that context as the “Asian population”, which in itself is comprised of individuals speaking differentlanguages and practicing different customs. Some research has involved onlyinternational students; while other studies have concentrated on bothinternational and new immigrant students of various nationalities and age groups. In addition to recognizing the diversity in the population under study,Matsuda and Jablonski (1998) make the point that students who come from thesame ethnic, class and linguistic backgrounds as their professors are actually in a privileged position with regard to their potential for academic success. Thisadvantage may be due to their ability to figure out the teachers’ tacitexpectations – a skill made much more difficult for those individuals who shareneither ethnicity nor class. Thus, the heterogeneity and ‘positioning’ of the population under investigation must be kept in mind when makinggeneralizations and predictions regarding academic performance, student needs,and recommendations for language support programs. In the current study, theL2 students who are the focus of this research include both international studentsand immigrants. This research identifies differences in background as a keyfactor in the analyses of the data reported here.
 Predicting Academic Performance
Most efforts to predict academic performance have focused on the relationship between English language proficiency and students’ academic achievement asindicated by grade point averages (GPA), faculty opinions, and student perceptions. Research suggests, however, that GPAs vary by academic major (Duran & Weffer, 1992; Johnson, 1988; Light, Xu, & Mossop, 1987), which can
affect the results of these correlation investigations. Some researchers raise the point that the use of GPA as the sole measure of academic success is misleading,especially for those L2 students whose level of language proficiency is belowthe minimum entry requirements. The GPA does not take into account courseload or the time it takes for L2 students to acquire language skills for academicstudy. Christopher (1993) believes that GPAs may actually be measuring astudent’s rate of language acquisition rather than the degree to which coursecontent is being learned. She suggests using a combination of GPA inconjunction with the average accumulated credit per semester. In some studies,credits completed seems to be a stronger predictor of academic achievement, particularly for L2 students (Fox, 2005; Johnson, 1988; Light, Xu and Mossop,1987). Bers and Smith (1990) concluded that personal factors, such as theseriousness with which L2 students approached their studies, and the number of years studying in the native country were integral to academic performance.To predict academic performance, researchers have used a number of English proficiency tests, including the Test of English as a Foreign Language(TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), theMichigan Test of English Language Proficiency (MTELP), and the CanadianAcademic English Language (CAEL) Assessment. Studies examining TOEFL’srelationship with students’ academic achievement have been problematic andinconclusive (Graham, 1987; May and Bartlett, 1995). James (1992) cites anearly study by Heil and Aleamoni (1974) who argue that the TOEFL appears no better nor worse as a predictor of academic success among overseas studentsthan regular admission tests used to predict success among native Englishspeaking American students. Ayers and Quattlebaum (1992) conducted a studyto see if TOEFL scores correlated with the academic performance of 67 Asianstudents enrolled in a masters program in engineering. In effect, it wasdetermined that the TOEFL score was not an effective predictor of achievementas measured by the students’ GPA. The only significant predictor was scoresobtained on the GREQ – the quantitative section of the GRE that the studentswrote prior to admission. Similarly, Light, Xu and Mossop (1987) found that theTOEFL score was not an effective predictor of academic success partly becausea number of graduate students in their study were academically successfuldespite their lower than cut-off scores at admission. One of the researchquestions in Christopher’s (1993) study of 55 L2 students at the University of British Columbia in Canada was to find out if writing test scores (Test of Written English) give a more precise indication of academic language proficiency than do indirect test results (TOEFL or MTELP) in predictingacademic success. Her results indicated that the writing test was a better  predictor of average accumulated credit per semester than the GPA.

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